Cllr Tim Briggs, is Conservative Opposition Leader in Lambeth.
In Lambeth the Labour Party controls the Council with a big majority, and Lambeth has now become the 29th poorest borough in the country. In so doing the Labour council has spent huge amounts of public money on a campaign to justify their ‘tough choices’, describing their budget as having been cut by 56 per cent between 2010-18.
The Conservative Opposition Group has repeatedly said that from our calculations the percentage reduction was likely to be just over 20 per cent. But 56 per cent was the starkest statistic the Labour council could find to persuade residents that any unpopular decisions made locally were really the fault of Conservative central government.
The Government was ‘ideologically driven’ against Lambeth, said Labour. The administration sought to remind residents suffering poor services that there had been swingeing cuts. The deception also enabled the Labour council to try blame the Government for its own unpopular decisions: wanting to demolish people’s homes on estates that it had failed to repair as landlord, or closing popular libraries.
Last week Lambeth Council finance officers confirmed that the ‘budget cut’ of 56 per cent was a fiction. The actual cut to the budget over 2010-18 was 20.41 per cent when all the other sources of income were taken into account.
In other words, rather than a 9.5 per cent annual reduction in spending, Lambeth has only needed to make a 3.2 per cent annual reduction in spending within a flabby, mismanaged local authority. If Lambeth had made the same reductions in staff as it made last year in 2010, it would have saved £25m a year, so a minimum saving of £175m in total since 2010 without even touching services.
The shift from a fair representation of the facts to a downright lie came when the council started describing a “56 per cent cut” as being a cut ‘to their budget’, or to their ‘funding’, rather than sticking with its original description of an estimated 56 per cent reduction in the core government grant over the period 2010-18.
So in the Labour Council mini-Pravda newspaper Lambeth Talk we had Council Leader Lib Peck saying there had been a “50 per cent cut to our funding”, or “an unprecedented 56 per cent cut in our funding”. In the controversial short film made by Lambeth Council after six seconds you get: “The Government has cut the money it gives us by 56 per cent”. Every email sent from council officers has a mandatory link to a page of Labour propaganda which states that Lambeth has had a “56 per cent cut overall… one of the deepest in the country”.
This is a local authority gaining political advantage by using public money to propagandise an untruth.
The Labour administration has form on telling fibs, with its often-repeated claim of “22,000 homeless” in Lambeth. There are 22,000 people on the housing register, but in reality only 6,000 people on the register are actively bidding to be re-housed in council properties, and a recent Freedom of Information request showed that no-one has been removed from the housing register since January 2013 – allowing Labour councillors to pretend there is a homelessness crisis in the borough. All caused by the evil Tories, of course!
Call these deceptions what you will, “post-truth”, “alternative facts”. We prefer to call them what they are: lies. We have called on the Labour Leader to resign.
However, the belief of Labour councillors in their own civic virtue remains constant, whatever their failures. Pointing out the difference between the truth and the reality is unlikely to shame them into resigning. After all, to the Left, the end justifies the means because they are virtuous. I am sure you can smell the circular argument. It insulates Labour councillors from being accountable, or criticising their own motives.
No doubt controversial Labour Leader Cllr Lib Peck will argue that she was actually referring to the grant from central government, or that her administration’s loose use of language is somehow a normal part of political discourse.
In the UK we expect politicians not to mislead the public for political advantage. And one thing that this scandal does indicate is that no-one who actually knows how Labour in Lambeth have spun the figures so shamelessly should ever want to vote for them again.
But then, if you control the message North Korean-style, how many residents of Lambeth will ever know about it?